Saturday, 31 October 2015

Japan is a country of structure, discipline, and precision


One may think that the cities of Japan will lack character and soul, but after spending 1 week traveling to three very different cities (Osaka, Tokyo and Sendai), I came to the conclusion that Japan is so much more.

Physically, planning in Japan I feel is based on need and necessity for development, rather than a structured idea and plan. If a railway needs to be built it gets built, if a building needs to be developed it gets built. There are controls like the Building Coverage Ratio, and some governance, but overall development seems to be encouraged in Japan so long as you have the money, to an extent in which developers have a certain amount of free reign. Whilst deal are getting done in back rooms by developers for huge profits, some may conclude this is corruption, however they haven’t fallen victim to the sprawl. 

Tokyo is an example of how to contain sprawl within a huge city, all the while serviced by an extremely competent set of rail networks the city itself is relatively easy to get around, more importantly however they have managed all of this together while having the biggest metro population in the world of 35 million people. This comes back to a social understanding in Japan of a respect for land and their country, this is reflective of the streets being clean of rubbish in all parts, urban agriculture scattered through major cities on what ever spare land that they can use, and urban housing density of extreme proportions. Why? Because the Japanese understand that the little land that they do have, combined with the huge population that they must support, results in that they are forced to make do with what they have got. Japan only has so much land to build on so they savor and protect the parts that they feel are important. 

Economically, the country is far from perfect fiscally, with revenue from Japanese banks at an all time low with interest rates at 0.1%. This has resulted in less government revenue from tax, bonds and other investment, but allows people to develop, buy property, and sees money being used and moved around in an economy that was hit hard by the GFC. The low interest rates in japan seem to be here to stay. 

Furthermore, culture acts as an important part in planning in Japan. As a nation that has been functioning since the 1st century AD, its culture has had many years to develop and is reflective of its cities, you can go from a century’s old temple in the middle of the city to a brand new train station with cutting edge technology in Akihabara. Historically however, Japan, keeps some of its pre-existing heritage buildings, but for the most part has destroyed a lot of these ancient temples and buildings, instead keeping the notable ones, and removing all other traces of its rich heritage. This cannot be any clearer in Osaka, Tokyo and Sendai, which all have remnants of the past but not nearly to the extent of Europe who have considerable history and heritage building as well. The Japanese city is reflection of the Japanese people, strict, discipline and efficient, yet it carries with it pockets of beauty, quirkiness and kindness, all of which collaborate to make Japan one of the most interesting places I’m ever likely to visit.

Zachary Powell